Clinton `Bill of Rights' Plays Well near Peoria

Article excerpt

Jill Frey never caught President Bill Clinton's attention - even when she stood on a chair for a better look at him Tuesday. But she said the "Middle Class Bill of Rights" that Clinton promoted Tuesday in Galesburg looked straight into her heart.

The White House chose this northwestern Illinois rail and manufacturing center as a backdrop, saying its people typify the target of Clinton's plan: middle-class Americans who need help to help themselves keep up with the shifting economy.

Indeed, Frey, 28, recently completed a two-year financial struggle to gain an associate's degree from Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg. Her reward: escape from a dead-end $17,000-a-year retail job into a medical radiology job that starts at $20,000 and eventually may double or triple that.

"I think what he said was just great," Frey said. "It's exactly what I wanted to hear." Pregnant with her first child, she said she is naturally interested in the future of education.

Battling to win back middle-class voters who deserted Democrats in November, Clinton said his plan was intended to keep the American dream alive in the face of more than a decade of income stagnation or slippage for average wage-earners.

"Every American who works hard and obeys the law should be able to get ahead in this new world," he told a cheering noontime audience of about 1,500 people in the Sandburg College gymnasium. The audience included dozens of striking workers who have been off their jobs for months.

Clinton's plan would:

Set up an income-tax deduction of up to $10,000 for educational expenses after high school. It would promote college and vocational training, just as the deduction for mortgage interest promotes homeownership, the president said.

Allow a $500 tax credit for each child younger than 13 in families earning $75,000 or less a year.

Revise tax rules to allow money removed early from an Individual Retirement Account to be used tax-free for educational expenses, health insurance, purchase of a first home or care of an elderly parent, and to expand eligibility for tax-deductible IRAs.

Streamline more than 50 confusing job-training programs into a simple system that would give qualifying students a $2,000 voucher for each two years of training. The cost would be $3.5 billion.

Mindful of the new Republican legislative majority that remains to be convinced, Clinton cast this as a nonpartisan rescue rope that meets demand for self-responsibility. …